Familiarity key as Robeson County students return 3 weeks after flood

Posted October 31, 2016 12:07 p.m. EDT
Updated October 31, 2016 6:51 p.m. EDT

— Schools in Robeson County reopened Monday, three weeks after Hurricane Matthew caused widespread damage, and it will be another few weeks before everything is back to normal.

"We just try to make them feel at home," said special education teacher Tammy Maynor.

Some of her students from West Lumberton Elementary attended classes Monday at Lumberton Junior High, displaced by continued issues with water and power. Custodians and maintenance have been working since the storm on cleanup, but district officials still aren't sure when all students will be able to return to their usual schools.

"West Lumberton Elementary was hit the hardest by the storm," said Tasha Oxendine, a spokeswoman for the school system. "About five to six schools throughout the district had some damage after Matthew, but none as substantial as West Lumberton."

Tara Bullard, principal at West Lumberton Elementary, says the school was under two to three feet of water for a week after Matthew.

About 130 students attend the school when it is at full capacity.

"It's bittersweet," said Bullard. "I'll be really glad to get back into school and to see the parents and kids. We really want to be at our school, but this is good enough for the time being."

Maynor, like many students, came to school despite having lost her home to the flood. She's been staying with a friend.

"We have three families that are living in the home with us," she said. "Our neighbors are living with us, so it's been kind of hectic, but we're making it."

All 42 Robeson County schools opened Monday on a two-hour delay, designed to give bus drivers enough time to navigate their routes to get around flooded roads.

According to officials, school bus drivers in Robeson County tested out their usual routes in their personal vehicles over the weekend to prepare for the detours they could face Monday.

According to a spokesperson for the school district, more than 80 roads in the area are still damaged, and shelters are still open and serving food to families. The water at nine schools in Robeson County was not usable until last week, officials said.